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Mind Your Business: The (Hiring) Lessons of the Costa Concordia

Mind Your Business: The (Hiring) Lessons of the Costa Concordia Credit: Photo Credit: Karl Tate

The tragedy of the Costa Concordia is, for the families of those lost, a horror beyond belief. Such an unnecessary tragedy brought about by carelessness and, apparently, bravado on the part of the captain is the last thing you think will happen when your family heads off on a long-anticipated vacation.

Beyond the immediate tragedy, however, the actions of the ship's captain leave business owners and managers wondering how they could tell if their employees would do something as outrageously foolish and how they would handle the disaster that follows. And, it begs the question: Do you really ever know what your employees are made of before it's too late?

A resume can tell you a lot about a person. References are rarely useful, unless the candidate is foolish enough to include a loose cannon on their list. Interviews don't tell you that much, either. Let's face it, most of us can pass muster on our best day in our best suit. It's your employees' worst days you have to worry about.

And that brings us back to Francesco Schettino, the captain of the ill-fated Italian ship. Surely this makes the top 10 list of his worse days of all time. It's not even Schettino's actions post-crash that are of greatest concern, but the fact that he took such outrageous chances and made the fateful decision to veer off-course with his giant cruise ship in an attempt to display his maritime prowess. That's the kind of thing an employer can't predict.

So are there signs that can predict how your employee will conduct him or herself when you're not looking? Can you tell in advance how an employee will handle a difficult situation? A difficult customer? A boatload of stress? (Pardon the pun).

There are, in fact, a few things you can do to get a feel for how an employee responds to stressful, difficult situations before you hire them. Google, for example, is known to ask some crazy, "riddle" question to its job candidates. But if you're not game for playing games, you might try a few subtle strategies to see how your candidate operates under pressure. Here are few things you can try:

That first call: Once you've got a resume you're interested in, it's time to make the call. If you don't reach the candidate on the first try, leave a message. Follow up with an email. After that, wait. If you don't hear back within 12 hours, forget it. Everyone has remote access to their email and voicemail. Someone looking for a job should be especially diligent about checking their messages. If they're not in a hurry to get back to you, they aren't going to be in a hurry to get to work and do a good job, either.

Interview scheduling: One thing you can try is asking the interviewee to come in immediately – the next day, perhaps. If they are really interested in the job, they'll scramble to make it happen. Or, once the interview is scheduled, you could call back and ask about moving the date or time up. It might be devious, but a candidate that's willing to juggle their schedule to be there is one you know really wants the job. (And, one who apologizes sincerely and explains why they can't change their schedule, is one who knows how to deal with a stressful situation without losing their cool.)

Ask the right questions: During the interview, ask the candidate about a time that something went wrong at their previous job. Pay careful attention to the answer. Do they blame everyone else for their failure? Or do they take responsibility for their own mistakes and explain what they learned from the experience. It's true that a leopard doesn't change its spots. Neither does an employee who thinks everyone else is the problem. Regard any finger-pointing as a giant red flare.

Trial period: It's illegal to hire a full time employee as a contracted employee. It is not illegal, however, to ask a prospective employee to work part time or on temporary basis for a week or two (an no more). As long as the position is paid and the employee understands that it is a temporary trial period, all's fair in love and hiring.

Create a paid assignment: There's nothing wrong with asking a prospective employee to take a sort of test before hiring. Ask the candidate to look at the company website and come up with a redesign or ask them to write a marketing plan for a fake client. Whatever the assignment is, make sure you don't give the candidate too much time. See how they operate under pressure and make sure they can meet a deadline. If they don't do a spectacular job while sporting a great attitude  now, they never will. And, make sure you pay for the assignment. In fact, pay a lot. Finding out – before it's too late – that you're about to hire a trouble maker, complainer or malcontent is worth every dime in your bank account.

Jeanette Mulvey has been the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily since its debut in 2010. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at jmulvey@techmedianetwork.com.

Jeanette Mulvey
Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.